Throughout my career, I've been asked numerous times, "Why do you teach?" This question is usually followed by one or more comments along the lines of observations of poor pay, crowded classrooms, lack of motivation on the part of students, lack of involvement on the part of parents, and lack of understanding on the part of those who craft school curriculum and policy.
Yes, all of these things exist. They've existed since I started teaching in the early 1980s. I'm sure they existed long before then as well. So with all of that baggage tumbling to the front of my classroom on a daily basis, why do I continue teaching? Why does anyone?
Why do I teach? Because all of those barriers don't matter to me as much as do the living human beings sitting before me. I can deal with all of the junk thrown my way. If necessary, I can dump it out on the sidewalk, close the door and devote my time to reaching the minds and hearts of the youngsters with whom I've been entrusted.
Teaching is so much more than the scattering of information upon youthful heads with the hope that spring assessment scores will be high. Teaching is about strengthening a child's heart as much as his head so that he will be able to function as a compassionate family member, as an empathetic community member, as a visionary architect of his world's future. It is one thing to prepare the minds of students with the information to meet these challenges. It is quite another thing to fortify the hearts of these students to allow them to actually put all the pieces together in a caring, meaningful manner.
It has been said that a teacher rarely realizes the results of his work. That is indeed true. Over thirty years have passed since I began teaching. Thousands of students of all ages have passed through my life. My purpose has always been to make a positive difference in the lives of each and every one of them. Perhaps a kind word for the child who recently lost his mother. Perhaps a lunch for the child whose mother cannot find a job. Perhaps an extra twenty minutes a day for the boy who is struggling with multiplication facts. Perhaps a word or two of praise for the girl who bravely decided to get up in front of the class and read her poem.
With all of those thousands of little things, how can I ever know how I've affected my "kids" for the rest of their life journeys? I can't. I can only hope that the nuggets of acceptance, joy, peace, comfort, and knowledge that I've bestowed upon each will grow exponentially and be shared with someone they encounter along their way.
I have been fortunate to hear from some of my students from my early years - individuals who are now parents, even grandparents - and some who followed in my footsteps to become teachers themselves. They have shared stories with me of some of the "little things" I did to make their time in the classroom worthwhile and to make their lives more meaningful. Little things with big dividends. Some of their memories don't even "ring a bell" for me - truly reinforcing for me the belief that we must be careful and thoughtful in all that we say and do as we never know what will remain in a child's mind and his heart forever.
Why do I teach? Because I know that I can make a difference - that I DO make a difference. Regardless of the size of my paycheck or the size of my class list, I am filled with an innate desire to share my knowledge and to share my heart with others. On paper, my job description involves teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. In reality, I teach KIDS.
The little things matter.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey.